Schein 9: Picking apart NFC contenders

Can anyone figure out the NFC?

Or the AFC wild-card race?

We had out our weekly Scheiners,

SCHEIN 9 style…

1. Foaming at the Mouth

The previously undefeated Saints now have one loss, losing to

Dallas as the Cowboys shed the label they can’t win in December

with a thunderous victory in New Orleans. Minnesota got embarrassed

in every phase against someone named Matt Moore and the

underachieving Panthers. The Eagles are super hot.

I need a Ph.D. in something that doesn’t exist to examine

the Cards, who clinched the NFC West. Green Bay’s quarterback was

outstanding but got no help from the defense or special teams in a

regular-season classic — albeit a loss — in

Pittsburgh. The Giants are on the outside looking in but announced

they won’t go away quietly by pasting the pathetic Redskins in a

huge spot.

And this is the beauty of the NFC in 2009. You have seven

teams fighting for the playoffs. You can make the case for and

against every team currently in the playoff picture making a run to

the Super Bowl.

13-1 New Orleans

The Case For: The Saints are the class of the

conference with the best quarterback in the NFC. New Orleans will

clinch the No. 1 seed when it demolishes the Bucs this weekend on

FOX. It’s so tough to outscore the Saints with Drew Brees and his

plethora of weapons. The running attack is strong. The defense is

blitz intensive and clutch in the secondary. New Orleans has played

in a lot of close games and big spots this year, and the remarkable

13-1 record speaks to the confidence level and clutch play from

Sean Payton’s squad. And it’s going to be very tough to beat the

Saints in New Orleans.

The Case Against: The Cowboys shoved New Orleans

around a bit on the ground. The Saints can be vulnerable against

the run. Starting a third-string left tackle finally caught up with

them. History is never on the Saints’ side.

11-3 Minnesota

The Case For: The Vikes are incredibly complete.

They have a Hall of Fame quarterback, an ultra-talented running

back, a diverse group of receivers and the best defensive line in

pro football.

The Case Against: Boy, Minnesota has looked awful

in two of the past three games against Arizona and Carolina. What

the heck was that on Sunday night? The pass protection was

horrendous. Adrian Peterson did nothing against Carolina and

Arizona. And Peterson has fumbled too much this year. Brett Favre

was terrible in both losses, conjuring up memories of his December

fade with the Jets last season. Brad Childress and Favre feuded on

the sideline (more on that later). While Jasper Brinkley looked the

part against Cincy last week, the club certainly missed E.J.

Henderson against Carolina.

10-4 Philadelphia

The Case For: Philly has won five straight games

in impressive fashion. Donovan McNabb is playing excellent ball.

DeSean Jackson is the ultimate weapon going deep. Brent Celek has

emerged as a legit weapon over the middle. The Philly offensive

line has stabilized with its health and consequently its play,

mauling the opposition. And Brian Westbrook is coming back.

Philadelphia has an excellent cornerback combination and an

aggressive defense. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the

NFL. And the Eagles, with New Orleans and Minnesota dominating the

conversation, don’t have the pressure on them.

The Case Against: If Philly doesn’t get a bye,

it’s tough to win three games in the playoffs. LeSean McCoy hasn’t

run the ball in the tournament. Sean McDermott hasn’t called plays

in the playoffs. I don’t love the linebackers. And the pressure

seems to weigh on the Eagles as the games get bigger in the

postseason.

9-5 Arizona

The Case For: Arizona is loaded with talent in

every phase. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin make

up a dominant and prolific passing attack. The offensive line is

physical and cohesive. The defense has a ton of playmakers. Ken

Whisenhunt is a strong coach who got his team to the Super Bowl

last season against all odds. They have the big-game experience.

And they proved how physical they are against the Giants and

Vikings this season. Arizona can play at any speed and beat you in

any way.

The Case Against: What in the world happened to

the Cards against the Panthers? And the Niners? And even in the

division-clinching game this weekend against the lowly Lions?

There’s something off about this team, with this wild knack to turn

it on and off. And the running backs can’t hold onto the ball.

9-5 Green Bay

The Case For: Aaron Rodgers has been simply unreal

this season. With Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and the emergence of

Jermichael Finley, his weapons are abundant. Ryan Grant is solid.

The leaky offensive line has come together. Charles Woodson is a

stud cornerback. The defense is ranked second in the NFL. Mike

McCarthy knows what he is doing.

The Case Against: Mason Crosby keeps missing

kicks. The defense, as great as it has been this year, couldn’t get

off the field in Pittsburgh in a big spot. And do you really trust

that offensive line?

9-5 Dallas

The Case For: The talent is incredible. The

December monkey is off their collective backs. When it is going

right, Dallas can run with two diverse backs and push the ball down

field in the passing attack with Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Miles

Austin. DeMarcus Ware is a stud. And Keith Brooking and Mike

Jenkins have had great seasons.

The Case Against: Where do I begin? Wade Phillips?

The Cowboys’ knack for choking in recent years? Flozell Adams?

Predictions…

The Vikings will get bounced. Arizona (though I am tempted

to scream Super Bowl) and Green Bay (my preseason pick) will tease.

Dallas will fold.

I think we are looking at a Saints against Philly

championship game.

The Saints are the safe pick.

Don’t be surprised if the Eagles, with their complete

package, make a run out of nowhere to the big game in Miami.

2. Rise and SCHEIN

The Chargers’ thrilling win against Cincy coupled with the

stunning Denver defeat to the Raiders gave San Diego another

division title and a major leg up for the coveted No. 2 seed and

bye. Norv Turner deserves a ton of credit for the nine-game winning

streak. The Chargers have never lost in December under Turner. And

Philip Rivers continues to dominate and amaze with his clutch play.

He was predictably fantastic against a great defense on the

game-winning drive.

3. Hide the women, children and Matt Millen

The Jets beat the Jets on Sunday, and the Falcons won a game.

The Jets left nine points on the field on missed field-goal

tries. There was a dropped hold, a bad snap and the kicker missed

the stadium.

The Jets were called for three awful personal-foul

penalties.

The Jets quarterback turned it over with three ill-advised

picks.

And the big, bad Jets defense let Atlanta march down the

field on the final drive to win, a sequence that rightly drove Rex

Ryan bonkers post-game. Why switch to a zone on Tony Gonzalez when

the man coverage was working all game?

And just like against the Dolphins, Bills and Jags, the Jets

wasted golden opportunities, beat themselves and suffered an

inexplicable loss.

The Jets are 7-7. The should be at least 9-5.

4. Backseat Coaching

Mike Tomlin decided to call for the onside kick after Jeff

Reed’s field goal in the fourth quarter with under four minutes to

go with Pittsburgh up two. I know Pittsburgh won, but that was

illogical. I know the defense for Pittsburgh was shaky in the game

and has been all year, but you have to play that straight up. If

Pittsburgh would’ve lost, that would’ve been an all-time

blunder.

5. Schein’s Anatomy

Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck left the Titans’ win on Sunday

with a knee injury in the third quarter. On Monday, he learned he

has a torn ACL and is done for the year. Bulluck has started 127

straight games and has been the most underrated linebacker in the

game other than London Fletcher. You just don’t find the

combination of a player, leader and overall guy like Bulluck.

6. Weekly Hot Seat

Oh, no. Controversy in Minnesota. And this might surprise you,

but I totally agree with Brett Favre. Why in the world did Brad

Childress want to take him out of a 7-6 game in the third quarter?

That’s illogical! I understand the offensive line was awful,

resulting in Bryant McKinnie getting benched and Favre getting

pounded. But aren’t you trying to win?

And to make it worse and more embarrassing, Favre showed the

world he runs the team by making Childress reverse his

decision!

7. My guys

DeMarcus Ware: He sealed the incredible win

against the Saints by forcing Drew Brees to fumble. Ware was all

over the field in the upset special, a pretty heroic feat

considering the neck injury he suffered a week ago. I didn’t think

he would play in New Orleans and might even miss the rest of the

season. It was amazing to watch.

Joshua Cribbs: Two more majestic returns for the

Cleveland specialist, one for 100 yards and the other for 103. Do

you think the first thing Mike Holmgren is going to do is rightly

pay the man?

Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben hit Mike Wallace for

the game-winning touchdown with no time left in regulation. He has

such a knack for the fourth-quarter drive. It was Ben’s third

touchdown pass of the game. Roethlisberger threw for an eye-popping

503 yards.

Joe Flacco: To call the Ravens’ quarterback

perfect would be accurate. In a must-win game, Flacco threw four

touchdowns and zero picks while competing 21 of 29 passes.

Nate Kaeding: In a week featuring huge missed

field-goal and missed extra-point tries and a comedy of errors in

the kicking game, Kaeding calmly bombed a 52-yard game-winner for

the Chargers.

8. My goats

Jay Cutler: I don’t want to hear about snow or

travel. Cutler didn’t even get to 100 passing yards against the

Ravens and tossed three picks, par for the course in this miserable

season.

Jim Mora: Welcome back, Jim, for the second

straight week. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for

Seattle after the no-show against Houston, the Seahawks laid an egg

at home and got blown out by the pathetic Bucs. It was a totally

inept performance. Matt Hasselbeck threw four picks. The defense

was terrible. I don’t see how Mora keeps his job when the new brass

comes in.

Todd Haley: How do you kick to Joshua Cribbs?

Elvis Dumervil: My good friend from Syracuse

University, Lou McCarthy, texted me requesting this one. And I

understand the point. Dumervil didn’t make a play against the

Raiders, epitomizing the bizarre loss to JaMarcus Russell and the

Raiders in Denver. And it should also be pointed out that

FOXSports.com contributor Peter Schrager sent me a text last

Thursday saying his Defensive Player of the Year was Dumervil. Well

timed, Pete.

Mark Sanchez: I don’t know whether he got his

colors confused on the now-famous wrist band, but the Jets

quarterback hasn’t learned you can’t throw into double

coverage.

9. Three and out

  • When I got back from Redskins training camp in August, I

    wrote here on FOXSports.com that Mike Shanahan would coach the

    Skins in 2010. And if/when that happens, Shanahan and new general

    manager Bruce Allen will form an excellent team in D.C. Give

    Daniel Snyder credit for finally cutting the cord with the

    overmatched Vinny Cerrato. Allen is a great choice. And Shanahan

    will be, too.

  • Was Jim Zorn trying to get fired at the half on Monday

    night?

  • Jerome Harrison rushed for 286 yards against Kansas City, the

    third-highest total in NFL history for a game. Thanks for doing

    it a week late, when I was forced to start Harrison while getting

    knocked out of my fantasy league. Not to mention the differences

    between Aaron Rodgers, Miles Austin and Reggie Wayne from Week 14

    to Week 15. Thanks for nothing!

You can watch Schein and Chris Carlin on Loud Mouths,

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